in the C-Suite:
for Values Branding
is the corporate brand such a hot topic among CEOs today? As powerful
as the brand has been as a marketing asset, it is emerging as
an equally powerful tool for general management. CEOs now see
how the corporate brand can fuel two of their most urgent agendas:
transform business performance; and
- to more effectively support their boards.
decades now, CEOs have allocated resources to manage the one intangible
marketing asset that drove billions in equity-market capitalization,
the brand, but now they are turning to the corporate brand to
help them manage the soft side of two desperately
needed transformations: To shift internal energies to critical
new priorities, and to function as a permeable skin among the
self-organizing communities of its stakeholders.
internal energies with operating values
leaders are doing this by explicitly emphasizing the operating
values meant to drive operating results. One good example is IBMs
current emphasis on innovation that matters, which
extends one of their core values through current branding initiatives.1
corporate behaviour with motivating values
ago, Peter Drucker urged business leaders to expand their relational
skills to meet emerging requirements in the global marketplace.
In particular, he urged excellence in collaboration and partnership
with other institutions.
they need to collaborate authentically with all their stakeholders,
from consumers to shareowners.
to do it? Organisations will make a quantum leap in trust and
creative collaborations when they legitimise, and even celebrate,
their motivating social values. These are the deeply held human
and social impulses that move people to act in their own and their
communities best interests.
these human values anticipate and even pre-empt the need for regulation
and legislation. They are the values that we teach our children:
integrity, fairness, and other specific aspects of the Golden
Rule. At Maio&Co, we call them soul values. They
drive the specific behaviours that civil society expects of corporations
today. Enlightened CEOs lead their organisations to nurture those
values in their daily interactions with tightly linked compensation
sum, CEOs in collaboration with the entire CSuite are beginning
to imbue their brands and align systems with operating values
that refocus the corporate energy. They have yet to capture consistently
the greater benefit of imbuing their brands and aligning systems
with explicitly human, motivating values that will cement their
collaborative relationship with the new global communities of
up: giving the board more of what it needs
just discussed, C-level executives are learning that the corporate
brand, and the plumbing that drives it, can give them the reach
and impact they need to meet todays daunting general management
challenges. Likewise, the values-based brand can help fill a governance
void at the board level.
more a board and its organisation can be selfgoverning, the less
vulnerable it is to pre-emptive regulation and/or damaging operating
surprises or criticism from outside. Brand values can help serve
type of management tool could take the form of a Board Committee
on Brand Values, that operates as Douglas K. Smith describes in
his most recent book On Value and Values: The Committee
on Brand Values should set and monitor policies and principles
to ensure the organisation delivers the brand values it promises.
The committee might step in to investigate or review instances
of significant failure or success...2
a Committee like this, aided by a tool such as our own Maio&Co
Handbook for the Committee on Brand Values, could more readily
anticipate incipient problems where the brand promise might be
slipping out of balance with the organisations ability to
deliver on it. This is one concrete example of the value the brand
delivers as a tool for general management.
addition, here are eight guidelines to help the CEO and the other
C-level executives re-examine their approach to the corporate
brand as a tool for general management. These guidelines emerged
from the pressures for more sustainable corporate decision-making.
We believe they represent a good start for the CEO who would expand
the value of the brand as a management tool.
branding for high performance: eight guidelines
Match the talk with the walk
corporate sustainability movement grew out of widespread scepticism
and discontent with corporate behaviour. In fact, in addition
to the broad scandals of corporate abuse symbolized by the Enron
case, it could be argued that business had been given tacit permission
to transcend the moral code.
antidote is authentic corporate responsibility and accountability.
This mandate forces brand managers to take count of the corporations
delivery on the promises they and their promotional activities
make so the brand manager is accountable for the corporation
walking the talk that the marketing and communications disciplines
historically craft and then promote.
successful professional in the field today has to some degree
mastered the art of such calibration already. But too often we
have seen the marketing, communications and public relations functions
being used as superficial bandages to mask operating problems.
This practice hurts the credibility of the corporation, of the
discipline, and the trust between the company and its constituents.
practice can only continue so long as those professionals allow
it to. For the integrity of the profession, and their own personal
integrity, communications and marketing professionals must take
a stand in this difficult global transition toward rebuilding
truth and trust between the corporation and its stakeholders.
must speak truth to power when the brand promise starts
to exceed delivery. And the CEO must have the heart to insist
that they do so.
is the only way he or she can take action in time to preserve
brand integrity and credibility. It may seem like a courageous
stand to take, but in todays eagle-eyed environment theres
no place to hide anyway. The inevitable exposure of any falsehood
is likely to hurt the corporation much more than an uncomfortable
truth in the context of an explanation. By the same token, understating
the promise of the sustainable brand is tantamount to leaving
money and market preference on the table. Why wouldnt a
corporation want its stakeholders to know the advantages of doing
business with it?
is another way in which the corporate sustainability movement
is affecting brand management: it demands that we learn to
calibrate accurately the promise and the reality of the benefits
of enlightened corporate behaviour.
Take the long, strategic view
demands that all disciplines and all corporate activities, including
brand management, must be seen in the longer term. For example,
one of the first screens for publicly traded companies who sought
to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index was
been the length of their strategic planning horizon. Short-term
planning cycles are not consonant with sustainable corporate behaviour.
So too, in this context, brand management practices and the discipline
itself must become better connected to the longer-term strategic
initiatives of the corporation and the evolving preferences of
its stakeholders. Moreover, long-term planning is the only responsible
approach to managing an asset such as brand that can drive up
to 70% of a companys market capitalization.
Sensitise over, under, sideways, down
corporate behaviour implies a sensitivity to the myriad ways in
which the companys actions affect its world. And todays
world embraces a broad group of stakeholders. So the corporation
that leads will become a more careful listener to a much broader
group of constituents.
even if the corporation seeks only to manage reputation risk these
days, it will enhance its listening skills.
the purer motives will emerge, and likely enhance the success
of those who are authentically open. As David Korten pointed out
years ago, the commoditized world has reduced the margin for error
in the global marketplace. Barriers to entry in key markets have
dissolved with continual, eroding waves of access to capital,
resources, technology and labour. The differentiator boils down
to the responsiveness to stakeholders that comes from superior
information on their evolving preferences for the softer
aspects of delivery, access, and bundled services.
same forces that have helped to shift power to the customer and
supplier, such as access to information via the internet, can
be a source of advantage for the brand manager, too. For example,
internet access is as much a device for gathering information
about stakeholders as it is a two-way relationship channel. Royal
Dutch Shell pioneered in this regard, inviting open commentary
and actually processing it through its internal systems into an
authentic dialogue device.
Build social value(s)
addition to affecting branding processes and systems, the corporate
responsibility movement shapes the very content of brands. Content
takes many forms. There are positioning aspects that are unique
to each brand and the corporation behind it. And then there are
those that represent the performance bar that every corporation
must meet who would be respected and preferred among its various
stakeholders at any given time. Because the corporate sustainability
movement is raising that bar on the basic requirements of a trusted,
responsible corporation, the movement itself is changing the content
of brand positioning for all organisations.
is this area that we refer to as the particularly social or soulful
values component of brand positioning. That is to say that companies
are expected to demonstrate a set of attributes in a more deliberate
manner than they have recently in order to join the community
of trusted corporations.
have identified 13 of these values as comprising a set of essential
attributes for those corporations that would be embraced as members
of a responsible corporate community.)
It is in this context that the words responsible and
sustainable start to become inseparable.
companies are not just participating in sustainable practices;
responsible companies that have the trust of their stakeholders
demonstrate attributes that go beyond what is sustainable. They
include in addition, attributes and values that are humane
or what we refer to as soulful.
example, examine the pressures exerted by civil society, organized
groups of self-described socially responsible investors, etc.
They have rallied and pressured corporations to address, for example:
in pay scales, particularly between the CEO and median-level employees
- transparency of operational performance
- broad ecological impacts of their operations
- broad social impacts of their operations on human rights and
labour practices, especially those sourced in developing countries.
enough some of these pressures spawned best practices
as a reaction. These now manifest in such cornerstones of best
practice as: diversity programs; transparency initiatives and
other efforts to share more performance data; environmental reports;
social reports. But such responses appear all too shallow when
they are forced and not terribly distinctive. Patching up the
vulnerable parts of an organisation with a topical program is
not the sign of an authentically integrated corporate citizen.
Nor is philanthropy, per se, or so-called cause-related
marketing. And statements, reports are similarly suspect.
missing for true credibility is consistent proof of authenticity.
And that comes from an understanding of the motives behind the
companys response to pressures and seeing those motives
demonstrated in actions. Instead, the company authentically responding
to civil societys pressures for fundamental reform will
demonstrate it through the consistent presence of a set of values
in all its decision-making. It is the hallmark of leadership positioning
today. Not only does this strengthen the trust bond, it helps
the company anticipate the inevitable next wave of civil pressures.
practical terms this suggests that the discipline of brand management
become more integrated and interactive in relation to other disciplines
in the corporation, specifically, strategic planning, human resources,
investor relations, supply chain management, public affairs, public
relations. Yesterdays stuff of brand management customer
and employee intelligence is necessary but no longer sufficient.
brand management discipline must open up and become a collaboration
among stakeholders and the corporation. That is the fundament
of a healthy brand going forward.
sub-disciplines must be cultivated and integrated into the psyche
of the company as well as into the brand management practice.
These include the management of stakeholder engagement, the constructive,
collaborate solution development that inclusiveness of stakeholders
can bring to the corporation.
Dance with more of the people, more of the time
benefits transcend risk management and those benefits tap into
another phenomenon that is currently observed by experts and practitioners
is the whole experience of complexity and complexity theory as
a rich resource for business management. Indeed, the notion of
inclusiveness as a strategic advantage is at the heart of stakeholder
is not too surprising that creativity, and agreement, should multiply
among a diverse group of people who sit down together to discuss
their common interests and concerns. The scientists talk about
this as more robust solutions emerging from chaordic systems.
With more freedom of information and instantaneous and virtual
communication channels, todays stakeholders can convey their
wisdom about what is best for their family or community to product
and company managers
leads to optimal solutions, as Shannon Larsen of The Santa
Fe Institute put it to me recently.
second major benefit of this more inclusive, genuinely interactive
collaborative approach tends to be a natural buy-in and support
of participants, those actively engaged in the process, and those
whom they represent.
Kill the Buddha
teacher once told a story that demonstrated the need to set aside
the experts and trust ones self. When
you see the Buddha on the road, he said, you must
kill him. The lesson implied by this shocking vignette is
that one must come to trust the inner self, above all others
even the highest, most revered teachers.
the case at hand, self is the set of engaged, earnest
stakeholders. So another implication is that the corporate brand
manager becomes more of a facilitator, an orchestra leader, rather
than a sage or expert.
Know, and heal, thyself
we can agree that branding the process of building preference
for a unique set of characteristics associated with a unique set
of identifying symbology is as powerful a tool inside the
company as outside it, then the responsibility of the brand manager
is as strong among the employee and close-in external stakeholders
as among customers.
fact, the very processes of managing the brand provides a perfect
opportunity for the
corporation to monitor and help nurture those same values.
The brand is porous: manage osmosis
shift in power from corporation to stakeholder has come with a
by ecommerce and internet activism. As a result, the brand is,
more than ever, a constantly shifting asset. And it is in many
ways co-owned by the corporation and its stakeholders. Each body
nurtures it, responds to each other through it (the corporation
by fine-tuning it to evolving stakeholder preferences and corporate
constraints; other stakeholders by according it more or less preference,
loyalty, permission and premium pricing).
historically we brand managers were content to sample audiences
periodically remotely, if you will now we participate
with them interactively, collaboratively, almost continually.
Today, we must even ensure the appropriate alignment of suppliers
with our own corporate values and ethics.
managing a brand is more like dancing the tango while leading
only way to succeed is to be sure the orchestra is so well-prepared
that they play almost from body memory, from a cellular harmony
with the core values. The tango with external stakeholders will
demand almost all your attention and skill. Weve come to
think of it as managing two strands of DNA, continually spiralling
around each other at the length of horizontal bars of procedures
and practices and structured interactions with stakeholders. As
the double helix revolves, the energy field it creates is the
brand aura, or halo.
todays highly relationship-driven world, the brand is a
dynamic, vital, living entity,
fed by the interaction among its myriad stakeholders. The brand
managers task is to set up solid frameworks for interaction
and let go enough so the brand can absorb through osmosis the
evolving requirements and rich insights of its constituents. All
this in the framework of a deep set of values that guide its social
and economic performance.
1 See Its a Great Time to Be
an Innovator, corporate brochure distributed with IBMs
2005 Annual Report.
Smith, Douglas K., On Value and Values, Prentice Hall, 2004, p.256.
Also recommended as companion reading is Mr. Smiths, Make
Success Measurable, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.
Maio has guided leaders in the Fortune 100 for 20 years to achieve
specific business goals by managing their brands strategically.
She is an alumna of McKinsey&Company as well as several premier
corporate identity firms. Since 1997 she has helped CEOs prepare
for what she then identified as the coming tsunami of corporate
accountability. Her work also has helped clients to list
successfully on the New York Stock Exchange, reposition multibillion
dollar product brands, and preserve their social values while
sharpening their competitive edge. Her firm, founded in 1994,
guides enlightened leaders to integrate their profit- and socialimpact
priorities to secure preference in key corporate markets. Ms.
Maio can be reached at Maio and Company, Inc., 405 Park Avenue
15th floor, New York 10022 USA.
SoulBrand, SoulBranding are service marks of Maio and Company,
Inc. 19972006. All rights reserved. ©Maio and Company,